Fan fave Will Perry will be key to Rivers Hoopers' success in BAL Playoffs

Will Perry, who was undrafted by the NBA in 2016 after playing DII hoops for the Leonoir-Rhyne Bears, has made a career plying his trade around Europe and Africa, from Spain to Bulgaria to Portugal, and also Rwanda and Mozambique. Armand Lenoir/NBAE via Getty Images

American point guard Will Perry has played all over Europe and Africa since leaving college at Lenoir-Rhyne in 2016, and his experience has been key to Nigerian side Rivers Hoopers finally reaching the BAL playoffs in Kigali, Rwanda.

It took four editions, but Hoopers finally made history as the first Nigerian team to win four games at the Basketball Africa League, despite their local league remaining in shambes for the better part of the last few years.

A BAL veteran after a stint with Rwandan side Patriots (the same team that featured J.Cole in the first edition), Perry and fellow BAL vet Kelvin Amayo led the team standings in almost all stats during the qualifiers.

Amayo led not just the team, but the Sahara conference in minutes played, field goals attempted and three point attempts. He led the team in assists (6.8), steals (2.5) and three points made (18).

For his part, Perry led the team in average points (18.6), free throws made (20) and conference-leading free throws percentage (100%), along with being second in assists behind Amayo (5.2).

READ: ESPN's guide to the new BAL Playoff format

While his effect on the floor has been phenomenal, it's in the intangibles that Perry has really helped the Kingsmen blossom, and he told ESPN that it was not by chance.

As soon as he arrived, he made it clear what the team needed to do if they were to compete seriously: "I tried to instil the fact that if we want to win, if that's really our goal and we want to be serious and qualify for the playoffs, we have to start immediately being professional.

"From the day that everybody arrives, the coaches, staff, players, we all have to think like professionals."

To do that, Perry said the team needed to switch in their mindset and forget about the lack of a league structure in Nigeria, adding: "I know that some of the Nigerian local guys don't have much experience. Nigeria doesn't have a basketball league right now, the federation is a mess, no secret to that.

"The key is that they switch their mindset to, 'Hey, we are going to BAL. The first thing we need to do is think like professionals. Take care of our body every day, take practice seriously, watch film and everybody needs to know their role, because everyone on the team has a different role.'

"That's something that I preached to the guys and they took it really well. It's really hard to not have any experience and your own local league is not capable of putting together something valuable. It's really hard to know how to play the right way in a professional environment.

"BAL is huge, players are good, every team we are playing against has a local league that is super good, so we were at a disadvantage straight away. So I tried to instil that they forget that mindset that 'we have nothing here' but let's build a professional mindset in these three or four weeks, and we did a good job of it."

And to think that he almost did not play in the tournament this year. Perry says he was not expecting to, even when Hoopers came calling. Not until he spoke to coach Odaudu and General Manager Ifie Ozaka.

He explained: "At first, I wasn't too crazy about it when Rivers Hoopers reached out to me. But the coach, the GM, they made me feel like they were going to take it serious and try to do something really cool this time. I trusted them and it's been great so far."

In bringing his experience, professionalism and determination to win to the Kingsmen, Perry says he has also learnt a lot from his teammates: "The biggest thing I learned was resilience.

"Some of these guys have never played outside Nigeria and the league in Nigeria is almost non-existent, the conditions are not amazing but they still get up every day, practice hard, have a great attitude and want to learn.

"They are humble, they dream big. So I learned resilience, to just put it on and go to work every day."

This resilience is a function of the often dysfunctional sports scene on the continent, with poor administration, sub-par facilities and a general lack of good administration. After playing in Mozambique, Rwanda, and now Nigeria, Perry says that is what stands out to him the most as the biggest disadvantage the players from the continent have.

He said: "The lack of structure is evident in Africa. Everyone talks about it, so this is not breaking news. It is unbelievable because the level of talent in the players and abilities of the people -- not just basketball, music, whatever -- are able to achieve is unbelievable to me, because the lack of structure is a huge disadvantage.

"For example, the level of players that are coming out of Africa and learning basketball at age 16 and ending up playing in the NBA or making money in Europe or even some of my teammates here.

"It's super impressive that [African players] able to cultivate that type of ability when the resources and structure are below standard, as opposed to America or Europe."

Perry balanced that thought by adding that he has been fortunate to play for African sides that are indeed well-organised and resourced, as evidenced by their participation in the BAL.

He added: "I wouldn't say I have experienced much of that lack of resources or structure but you know what you're getting into. And if the team is in the BAL, they're going to be serious, 90% of the time.

"I've played in Rwanda and Mozambique. Those teams are serious, they want to win, they're professional. I wouldn't say I've run into too much stress in that regard. But it's nothing like Europe or America where everything there for you. Whatever you need you can get.

"It's not perfect, by any means. But African basketball is growing. People are starting to wake up and BAL is part of that."

Having conquered the Sahara Conference, Rivers Hoopers are now in Kigali for the playoffs, with their sights set much higher.

What if those good moments lead to a BAL title win? Perry does not even dare contemplate it: "To win BAL? Oh wow! If we won the BAL, I don't even know how to explain it to you.

"It would be the greatest moment of my career. For Nigeria, it would be something super cool, super amazing because you know we are not expected to be in any position of champion.

"But if we did that, it would be the best moment of my career, but that's a long way away. It's a good dream though."